THE owner of one of North Yorkshire’s most famous pubs – the Saltersgate Inn on the North York Moors – has pledged it will eventually reopen for business after a major refurbishment and expansion.

But Joseph Woodhead warned the £1.5 million scheme would not start this year and, even when work did begin, it would take 16 months to complete.

However, he has given a reassurance that the pub’s famous fireplace will be reinstated during the revamp, revealing that it had been removed and was being stored in a safe place until he was ready to put it back in again.

According to legend, the fire should never be allowed to go out, because 200 years ago a customs and excise man was killed by smugglers and buried beneath the fireplace.

The then landlord insisted the fire should always be kept burning, so no one would ever find the man’s body.

The isolated inn, situated on the A169 Pickering to Whitby road, is a familiar sight to thousands of motorists travelling to and from the coast, and used to be a popular place to stop for a drink or a meal.

But it had fallen into disrepair over recent years, until a project started a couple of years ago to restore the property.

The Press reported early last year that the restoration work had stalled and, since then, the building has lain empty and boarded up.

Mr Woodhead said that planning permission had been granted for a scheme which would involve doubling the size of the pub, creating ten bedrooms.

But he said work had come to a halt because of the economic situation and because the banks had withdrawn their support.

He said the project would eventually get under way again, but there was no chance of it starting again in 2011.

Mr Woodhead said next year was the earliest possible start date.